Ocean’s 8 takes place in the same narrative universe as the Steven Soderbergh directed Ocean’s films starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Ocean’s 8’s Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) sister. Apparently the whole family has a penchant for pulling off elaborate heists with a team of quirky, skilled wearers of nice clothes. Why not? Why should caped crusaders get to have all the cinematic universe fun?
One of the primary features of a shared cinematic universe seems to be a sense of “you know how this is going to go.” Ocean’s 8 leans into that dynamic like Cate Blanchett’s “Lou” (O8’s version of Brad Pitt’s “Rusty”) leaning nonchalantly against the frame of an open door in the background out-of-focus while her best friend Debbie plots something risky in the foreground. We kind of don’t mind that we’ve been here before, because it’s a cool place to be, and the people in the lounge are good company. O8 doesn’t have the same kind of pizzaz as Os 11, 12, and 13, because director Gary Ross isn’t as suave a host as Soderbergh. Think of Os 11, 12, and 13 as nights out on the town. O8 is a soiree - a little more buttoned-up, sure, but the emphasis is on the execution, not the energy, of the evening.
That’s not to suggest that O8 is without its twists. The surprises have more to do with the characters than the plot though. The Ocean’s movies all try to work a kind of con on the audience, letting us think we know what’s going on—straight telling us we do—while working a secondary con backstage. People are who they appear to be in the earlier Ocean’s movies though. Here, not so much. The “reveal” in O8 is about who some of these women really are, and the by-the-books performance of the plot helps to lull you into a kind of lazy acceptance of what you are seeing. It’s clever if a bit un-enervating.
There’s a moment in the movie during the “team assembly” sequence where Debbie states that she wants a “she” for a role even though Lou suggests they might benefit from adding a “he” to the team. “A she will be overlooked,” Debbie says, and they need someone forgetful for that particular job. It’s a pointedly gendered variation on one of my favorite lines in Ocean’s 11 when Rusty tells Linus, “Be specific but not memorable. Be funny but don’t make him laugh. He’s got to like you and then forget you the moment you’ve left his side.” Both lines attest to something true about human nature – we fail to notice people whom we reckon beneath us, and if you’re trying to pull something over on someone, that can be a gift.
Now, here is the moment in the review when I could pivot this into a mini-sermon about the Incarnation and Jesus being lowly and despised and that enabling him to pull one over on the rulers of the world. I could point you to Philippians 2 and Matthew 25 and wax theological about how when we are humble and love those who are humble we are both imitating and encountering Christ. But you know all that. I’d be wasting words.
Rather, I think I’ll lean nonchalantly into Debbie’s belief that a “she” will be overlooked when a “he” would be noticed. The line elicits a knowing chuckle from the audience, because we all know that the world tends to take women for granted. Given that women make up over half the world’s population, that’s particularly ambitious of us. So maybe take Ocean’s 8 as a reminder to notice and value and affirm the women in your life who do so much for you and for others and for the world, often without applause. I know I could do better at that.